The promises of cognitive neuroscience in design ?· The promise of cognitive neuroscience in design…

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  • The promise of cognitive neuroscience in design studies Pirita Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, University of Helsinki, Department of Teacher Education Minna Huotilainen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health Maarit Mkel, Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture Camilla Groth, Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture Kai Hakkarainen, University of Turku, Department of Education

    Abstract The process of design is a complex, multifaceted activity that requires sophisticated professional thinking and competence, described as reflection in action and embodied process where hand, eye, and mind collaborate. We propose that cognitive neuroscience provide valuable tools for analysing processes of thinking and acting relevant to designing. This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities that use of brain imaging methods, especially, provides for understanding activities, skills, and cognition of design. We argue that cognitive neurosciences provide valuable instruments and methods complementing traditional design research.


    Design process; cognitive science; brain imaging methods; embodiment Designing is a goal-directed, iterative, and creative activity that requires sustained cultivation of sophisticated cognitive competencies (Simon, 1977; Ralph & Wand, 2009). Cognitive neuroscience, in turn, represents a multidisciplinary effort to analyse neurobiological substrates underlying various cognitive processes using experimental methodology from physiology, psychophysics, electrophysiology, and functional neuroimaging. To what extent is cognitive neuroscience able to provide answers to scientific questions regarding the design process? Designing is a complex and multifaceted activity in nature, whereas typical cognitive neuroscience studies investigate very simple and repeatable cognitive processes. Can reliable experimental settings be created that allow detection of particular interrelations between design processes and functional activities of the brain and its subareas? Until recently, design researchers have not had research tools that would enable them to tackle the neural basis of designing (Alexiou & al., 2009). Although the body and mind were traditionally studied separately, the research field of embodied cognition has emerged, integrating philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience (Varela & al.1991; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). The research on embodied cognition has been conceptually elegant, but there have been very few associated empirical studies of design practice, where embodied knowing plays a crucial role. The neural basis of such practice has hardly been studied (see, however, Goel & Grafman, 2000; Alexiou & al., 2009). Yet current research on brain systems is deepening our understanding of the neural foundations of embodiment, skill learning, and social interaction relevant for design and craft (for a review, Hari & Kujala, 2009). We understand design and craft as involving complex problem solving processes in the mind-body which are fundamentally creative in nature, and which implement conceptual ideas in the design of material artefacts (Keller & Keller, 1999). For us, craft and design represent similar processes and their enactments are both cognitive (ideation, problem solving) and embodied processes (experimenting, constructing and making) in nature although craft is more commonly related to learning traditional practices and motors skills. Design thinking is mediated by use of visual and material tools and artefacts (Goel, 1995; Perry & Sanderson, 1998). Drawing is generally the most important thinking tool for the

  • designer, and sketching is an integral aspect of design (Goel, 1995; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen & Hakkarainen, 2004). In spite of intensive study of visualisation, the role of the material exploration and experimentations has not received much attention. Yet, the choice of materials and tools related to the specific context often alters sketches produced during the process (Mkel & Nimkulrat, 2011; Kosonen & Mkel, 2012). Designers appear to work in parallel processes of conceptual reflection and material experimentation (Ramduny-Ellis & al., 2010). The present study is a part of the Handling Mind; Embodiment, Creativity and Design project integrating expertise in neuroscience, educational psychology, and design research; its goal was to develop and test novel neuroscientific methods for studying creative embodied processes and skill learning in the field of design. The present project aims at generating and testing hypotheses concerning design activity as well as the role and function of different brain areas in the design and craft process. Design research, at present, shows two broad areas of deficiency: 1) investigation of the brain basis of design practice and 2) empirical research of embodied aspects of design. Advances of neuroscience indicate that naturalistic settings for studying design cognition are feasible. We propose that cognitive neuroscience can be used to study 1) design activity and associated cognitive processes; 2) differences between design conditions and fields, and 3) between-group differences related to intensity and types of design training. We propose cognitive neuroscience as an alternative tool for design studies, to be accompanied with more traditional design research. In order to examine the challenges of conducting neuroscientific studies of design, we wilI review, in the first section, studies of design cognition. We will cover studies of expertise, reasoning, and visualisation as well as address the relevance of distributed and embodied cognition for design. The second section provides a concise description of the methods of cognitive neuroscience relevant to design research.

    I Previous research on design cognition and embodiment

    Expertise in designing Studies of design expertise indicate that design thinking is a distinct mode of knowing (Cross, 2004, 2006; Lawson & Dorst, 2009). Design tasks require complicated processes of searching for workable, aesthetic and functional solutions; such tasks are commonly viewed as prototypical cases of complex and ill-defined problems (Goel & Pirolli, 1992; Goel, 1995) without unique or predetermined solutions (Simon, 1969, 1977; Akin, 1986). Design problems are also considered to be wicked problems in nature (Rittel & Weber, 1984). In order to manage the infinite possibilities, the designer has to limit the design space by using external and internal constraints (Goel, 1995). The design process involves successive reframing of the design space; the process advances iteratively through cycles of ideation, testing, and modification (Goel & Pirolli, 1922; Goel, 1995; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen & Hakkarainen, 2001). Research on expert/novice differences in problem-solving performance, starting from architectural design (Akin, 1986; Suwa & Tversky, 1997) and expanding toward product design (Goel and Pirolli, 1992; Eisentraunt & Gnther, 1997), played an important role in establishing the field of design research. Design studies have examined knowledge, strategies, and methods designers use in solving design problems (Akin, 1986; Goel & Pirolli, 1992). Most of these design studies relied on the empirical investigations tracing design processes by thinking-aloud protocols and described design activity as movements through problem space (Akin, 1986; Goel, 1995; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen & Hakkarainen, 2001). Dorst and Cross (2001) proposed that the space of proposed solutions and the space of structuring problem co-evolve by moving between these two spaces and by creating matching problem-solution pairs. Along similar lines, Seitamaa-Hakkarainen and

  • Hakkarainen (2001) have proposed that designers are iteratively moving between composition (i.e., visual design) and construction design (technical) spaces. According to Cross (2004) considerable work remains to be done to adequately understand design expertise.

    Visual analogy Analogical thinking and reasoning are cognitive processes important for creativity (Boden, 1992) and designing (Ball & Christensen, 2009; Ozkan & Dogan, 2013). Analogy is defined as a process of mapping and transferring from one situation to another based on similarities between stimulus and target (Goldschmidt, 2001). Analogical reasoning moves from a known example to abstraction, and from abstraction to a new idea to solve the problem (Casakin & Goldschmidt, 1999). Visual analogy is considered to be a central strategy in solving design problems for both novices and expert designers (Casakin & Goldschmidt, 1999). They concluded that visual analogy improves the quality of designs and that it is especially important for students to learn the uses of analogies for improving their problem solving processes (Casakin & Goldschmidt, 1999). When abstract or unusual representations are used as possible source analogues, designers invoke more analogies and they are better in analogizing (Perttula & Sipil, 2007). Visual displays act as stimuli and either expand the space of creative solutions (Goldschmidt & Smolkov, 2006; Goldschmidt & Sever, 2010) or constrain and recycle old ideas (Purcell & Gero, 1996). To boost the use of analogies and avoid cognitive fixation many design studies have manipulated the given examples or the instructions of analogical thinking (for review see Ozkan & Dogan, 2013).

    Visualisation The role of visualisation during the design process has attracted interest among design researchers (Goel, 1995; Perry & Sanderson, 1998; Seitamaa-Hakkarainen & Hakkarainen, 2004). Goel (1995, 87) investigated kinds of visual representations designers generate, especially what kinds of sketches they create to transform design tasks into desired


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